Detecting Deception: Gathering Evidence and Seeking Admission

OPEN is a key word to remember when detecting deception. Open body language – and an open mind – are your best friends when looking for the truth.

An open mind is going to help keep you in the “information-gathering” mode, which usually proves to be more effective than the gruff interrogation techniques you’ve seen in the movies.


Ask open-ended questions – and lots of them. The more questions you ask, the more information you gather – and the wiser you become.  Focus your questions on How, Who, What, When, Where and Why.

While there is place for yes-no questions, open-ended questions will allow you to gather as much data and facts (or lies) as you can:

  • The more information you gather, the more places you’ll be able to drill into when you identify a hotspot.
  • The more they talk, the more nonverbal cues you can gather.
  • The more words you hear, the more you can glean from statement analysis.


The interview process generally moves from general to specific, and information gathering is  more conversational and less threatening. Information gathering can help you understand process and procedure. It also leaves you open to other explanations that you may not have previously considered.


The secret to information gathering is to continue asking questions until you have what you need. Take your time and be patient. When it’s time to seek admission, your questions – many of which you will already know the answer to –  should become more specific.

Moving from general to specific questioning may look something like this:

  • Step One: Prime them for the truth

“I know you are an honest person…”

  • Step Two: Gather information

How does the deposit process work?”

  • Step Three: Drill a little deeper

“The front desk prepares the daily deposit – then explain to me again why you occasionally prepare the daily deposit?”

  • Step Four: “Maybe I’m wrong here…”

This step is where the baseline comes in – you are looking for those deviations when your subject becomes slightly uncomfortable. When you spot a deviation say something like, “Well, maybe I’m wrong here, but your explanation doesn’t make sense.”

  • Step Five: WAIT

WAIT stands for “Why Am I Talking?”

Silence is pure gold in an interview – no one likes awkward silence – but if you are patient and quiet, your subject will do almost anything to fill the silence.

  • Step Six: Confirm your hypothesis

Ask a question that confirms what you already suspect: “So, every time I see  ‘see detail’ written on the deposit slip, that means you prepared the deposit and took it to the bank?”

  • Step Seven: Move in with the strategic use of evidence

In this step, reveal some of the evidence and ask them to explain the contradiction. The television detective, Columbo, was the master of asking questions he already knew the answer to and strategically using evidence to find the truth:

“Explain: This deposit slip with ‘see deposit’ tells me that you prepared the deposit – why wasn’t the cash  deposited?”


When they feed you a line, close in with a little more evidence:

“Really? That’s interesting, because every time there is a deposit with ’see deposit’ written on it, the cash wasn’t deposited. Why is that?


All of these techniques are helpful when questioning a suspected fraudster. Employing the right interview techniques can make the difference in leading you to the truth in a forensic investigation.

Detecting Deception: Body Language

Now that we’ve peeked behind the curtain of speech and facial expressions, it’s time to move on to body language. But before we focus on our subject’s nonverbal cues, let’s shine the light on our own body language.

Remember: when detecting deception, we aren’t looking for the lie – we are looking for the truth. One of your best chances to get to the truth is through trust. Open and honest body language is one tool to help you achieve trust.

As the interviewer, when you use open, honest, natural body language, your subject is likely to follow suit. When using open and honest body language, the honest person will tend to:

  • Turn their body and point their feet toward you
  • Lean forward with casual interest
  • Shift posture fluently without nervous tics

Continuing the analogy of the tightrope walker – when your questions probe into unwanted territory, your subject’s nonverbal cues will likely stray far from open and honest:


Discrepancies indicating deception leak from the equivocator as obvious physical discomfort or gestures that are incongruous with what they are saying:

  • Ill-timed shoulder shrugs: Shoulder shrugs indicate uncertainty, so when a shrug shows up with a definitive statement it could indicate deception. For example, when a question like, “Have you stolen from your employer?” is answered with a resounding “No!” and partnered with a shoulder shrug, you may have landed on a hotspot. Beware –  these shrugs are usually quite subtle, and one shrug does not a fraudster make!
  • Involuntary bodily functions: The fight or flight response to stress can cause unintended physiological changes that can leak with the heightened stress the equivocator is experiencing.  Watch for clues like jittery hands, a growling stomach or a sweaty brow.


Forever fighting to convince you of the truth, the maximizer’s body language is often anxious and laced with arrogance:

  • Timing of gestures: For the honest person, a hand gesture comes a beat before the words. An anxious liar’s gestures will follow the words.
  • Palm-down gestures: Palm-down gestures during an interview are often an attempt to control and keep a tight rein on the conversation. Used in a standing position, these gestures are often an attempt to get you to back off.
  • Steepling: For a liar, steepling is the non-verbal equivalent of “don’t even try me.”
  • The crotch display: Watch out for this one – it’s the ultimate attempt to communicate dominance, arrogance and defiance.


This behavior is among the easiest to spot. While the maximizer is busy puffing up, the minimizer is desperate to disappear.

Think about a time when you’ve embarrassed yourself in front of a group – didn’t you shrink just a little?

Watch for similar behaviors during an interview. If your subject’s open stance suddenly changes and they shrink, cross their ankles, or cover their face, they are minimizing – a perfect time to dig a bit deeper.

Minimizers will opt to have a table, a book, a purse – anything – in front of them. Keep this in mind and set your interview room so that nothing blocks your subject.

When the minimizer lacks physical blockers, they will likely resort to body-blocking behaviors, e.g., hands in front of the mouth, neck, throat or any other vulnerable area. Eye-blocking is another favorite – often accomplished by covering the eyes or squinting.


Self-touch is often an unconscious way to relieve tension. Nail biting and hair twirling are examples of pacifiers in action.

Again, as with any nonverbal cues, be cautious – one cue or gesture does not necessarily mean you have found a fraudster.


Refining deception-detecting skills takes practice. People watching can be a great way to hone your skills. Deliberate observance of human interaction can provide invaluable instruction – watch for ill-timed gestures, changes in posture or other nonverbal cues.

Learn how we have used fraud examination techniques to catch fraudsters in the act.

Detecting Deception: Facial Expressions


Now that you have gathered your intel – you have your subject’s baseline squared away and you’ve peeked behind their words – it’s time to focus on the facial faux pas. There are many facial signs that are likely indicators of deceptive hot spots.

When your subject’s expressions and gestures don’t match their words, pay attention. Spotting emotional “leakage” in the face, combined with other verbal and non-verbal cues, speaks volumes about the message your subject is trying to share… and that it may not be the truth.

As with any hints of deception, facial faux pas won’t give you all the information you’re looking for, but spotting them gives you potential areas to probe.


  1. Preparation: Our expressions affect each other dramatically – as interviewers, we need to continually be aware of the effect our own nonverbal communication has on our subject. Remember: how you approach any situation impacts the outcome. If you approach this step calmly, you will keep your subject at ease as well.
  2. Scale back on mirroring: Mirroring is important to establish rapport, but once rapport has been established you want to scale back, as it might interfere with your ability to detect deception.
  3. Remember the baseline: Without it, there is little relevance to non-verbal and verbal cues.
  4. Exposing hotspots: Remember, liars are like tightrope walkers whose goal is to stay upright while threading their web of deceit. You’ll see the same three categories of signals when looking for facial faux pas as you did when assessing verbal cues of deception in your subject:
  • The Equivocator’s Face
    • There are seven universal emotions that are hard-wired, no matter the person: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, anger and contempt. Each of these emotions registers with very distinct patterns that are almost impossible to fake.
    • Micro-expressions of these emotions may leak out for only one-fifteenth of a second. They are a challenge to spot, but learning to spot these fleeting emotions is incredibly helpful.
    • With practice, learning to spot micro-expressions can significantly increase your ability to detect deception.
  • The Maximizer’s Face
    • Remember: the maximizer’s goal to bully their way through the interview. Classic facial faux pas for the maximizer include:
      • Changes in eye contact
      • Tight lips
      • Changes in blink rate
  • The Minimizer’s Face
    • The minimizer’s face is one of escape. Watch for these clues:
      • Facial blocking
      • Hiding in their hair
      • Lip sucking
      • Face wiping

Now that you know what facial expressions to look for in a liar, learn more about body language cues that can help you detect deception.